Posted by: rogermitchell | April 9, 2012

transcendent good: the radical behaviour of Jesus (ii)

Tracking the trajectory of New Testament transcendence, it amazes me that the idea of sovereignty stuck to God so strongly. But the subsumption of transcendence by sovereign power is that strong. This blog continues its commitment to reconfiguring a transcendent good that is free from the transcendent evil that sovereignty so often covertly connotes. So continuing from the previous post, this one explicates a transcendence exemplified by freeing the oppressed and declaring the era of divine favour.

Freeing the oppressed: One way of paraphrasinging this, which I rather like, is “apostling away free those who are crushed to pieces.” I particularly enjoy this because of the way that it detoxifies apostleship from its association with hierarchical superiority. The assumption of this is so strong in so much contemporary church thinking and cultural forms that continue to associate the restoration of apostleship with expectations of wealth, sumptuous offices and the power to hire and fire without recourse to consultation or justice. Then secondly it is good because it reveals the practical capacity of the incarnation to make the most broken victims of evil transcendence the primary advocates for the good. In so doing it upends the kingdoms of this world.

Declaring the era of divine favour:
Luke’s clear statement that Jesus closed the book at this point cannot be underestimated! Here Paul’s understanding of Jesus as the end of the law (Rom: 10:4) and James’s recognition of the triumph of mercy over judgement (Jam: 2:13) is seen in Luke’s account with particular clarity. It follows that the day of vengeance of our God that follows in Isaiah’s prophecy is now over, complete and abolished in the incarnational life of Jesus. A statement which he pressed right home, as Luke makes clear in the narrative that follows, where the predecessors of today’s Palestinians and Syrians are favoured over Israelis. We prefer to hear of judgement and vengeance on our enemies, not that they are more the object of God’s grace than we are who think we deserve it. A viewpoint that is likely to get as much approbation now as then! Good transcendence is not about vengeance. Jesus shuts the book on it. It is fulfilled in him at the cross.

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Responses

  1. I like this Rog, juts one query I’d be interested in your take on: if God is Christlike then must we say that God’s way was EVER one of vengeance and wrathful anger? Surely it is far more consistent with the idea of a loving God and a realistic view of human nature to say that the entire body of scripture, as is the subsequent 2000 years, full of people misunderstanding God and attributing to him their own bloodlust and desire for power. Surely the example of Christ shows us what God had always been like and now gives us eyes to see it?!

    • I have no problem with the suggestion that God has always been like Jesus. But I want to avoid any idea that there are two Gods, an OT one and an NT one, or that God has been evolving through time. I take what I perceive to be Jesus’ own view of the scriptures, as giving a gradual, progressive view of the character of God. I’m not keen to go beyond that and assign the OT perspective only to humankind’s tendency to ascribe their own bloodlust and desire for power to God. I see the picture as much more the story of God taking on board our insistence on making him in our image and then emptying it out progressively into the revelation of himself in Jesus.

  2. Oh Roger, I so desperately want to read this, reflect on it and perhaps respond by I have no time – its the end of the term and I am buried by grading! c.

  3. I’ve recently started a Facebook discussion group that is growing steadily and we are certainly venturing into ideas and issues from your book and blog, but my part proffered in my own quaint, not-so-academic language! The response is so interesting with some folk falling back into their trenches, others provoking further discussion by asking insightful questions, but most reading, thinking, adding the occasional questions, generally appreciating the discussion (intervening from time to time to correct silly mistakes, but revealing their careful attention to the threads!)

    The specific outpoured love / sovereignty question has been very interesting and is ongoing. If I may indulge in posting here a recent particular posting I made – bearing in mind the spread of audience of this type of group – coming at it in a more exhortative/devotional than particularly analytical way:

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this Love/Sovereignty thing, and one biblical image has impressed itself upon me as bringing a simple but profound solution to the apparent contradiction, and it is the image of ‘the Lamb upon the throne’. Like any familiar picture, it can become flat and, well, familiar, losing its edge and impact from overuse. But it struck me forcibly today how utterly scandalous and incongruous this image is, with the preposterous combination of these two objects. Here we have, not just the fragile and weak baby animal, but one that is bloodied and mutilated, representing the degradation of the love-torn sacrifice. There could hardly be a more unbecoming and unbefitting thing to be sitting on a throne. Because it’s a throne! The seat and symbol of kingly rule, of sovereign power and authority, pristine and jewel-crusted no doubt, something to bow before, to pay homage to whoever sits upon it. And this is God’s throne! Yet there it is, this sacrificed lamb – not simply sacrificial, but actually ‘post-sacrifice’ lamb – sitting in that place of all power and authority. What on earth did the angels think?!…

    But what struck me, about this unthinkable combination of such diametrically opposed objects was that through the joining of these two objects in the one image lay the solution to the paradox of love and sovereignty. You see, each was completely, irrevocably and eternally redefined and refocused by the other, at that captured moment, but also for all eternity past and future.

    For this throne, representing the high and lofty place, is completely scandalised by this profanity sat upon its regal seat. Sovereignty is brought low to the ground of suffering and powerlessness. But the lamb, weak and lifeless – the sin-laden bearer of love’s highest cost – is raised to the highest place, to the throne room, to sit on the very throne of God. Amazing, unconditional, fully poured-out, oft-rejected Love is enthroned in the place of all power and authority. As I have already intimated, this awesome revelation of who God is resonates backwards to ‘before the foundation of the world’ and forward to the ‘wedding feast of the Lamb’.

    The truth revealed is the heart of the Gospel: that Sovereignty, the rule of God, is forever blood-soaked and always, always expressed through acts of freely given sacrificial, servant love. And meek, unrepentant, non-coercive, all-consuming love is the authentic expression of God’s almighty, Sovereign power.’

    • your comments put me in mind of another emphasis I’ve seen in the past few years. For at least a decade now charismatics and evangelicals that I know have emphasized not the lamb but the lion. There has been an almost fetishization of the lion and how he is roaring over cities, going to charge in and claim his turf. Interesting eh – sovereignty as expressed through the King of Beasts instead of the sacrificed lamb.

  4. I’m not sure if this is the right place for this comment, but there is a lot of talk about sovereignty – almost as thought it were a bad word. However, if it is a bad word, then what I am not understanding is how Paul can so freely talk about Jesus being Lord. NT Wright also points out the parody that Paul plays in comparing Jesus to Caesar. yes, he is a different Caesar, but he is a Caesar none-the-less. So, I think I get the idea of expunging empire from the church. I think I get the idea of kenosis, but I am not sure I am following the argument, because the way I read the new testament the resurrection does change things. Jesus does become Lord. He does become sovereign.

    What am I not understanding here?


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